Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Hills of Providence

Finally, this past weekend my cold left for good, meaning time to return to the road (and the blog). After what I’ll call a “wishful thinking” tempo run last Wednesday, my symptoms (sore throat, stuffy nose) came back, essentially forcing me to miss the remainder of the training week. Alas, I hit two of my three key workouts – a hill workout would surely have pushed everything into my chest. Hopefully (knocking on all things wood), this will be the only health-related setback and at least it’s early.

So with that, I hit the pavement this weekend for a 90-minute progression run on the “Hills of Providence.” My wife and I took a trip up there to visit my father-in-law, which brought the always exciting chance to explore a new city on foot. I had a loose five mile route planned.

What I’ve come to enjoy about running by minute rather than by mile is that the run becomes flexible. And I needed that this time around. I had the major streets memorized that I needed to turn on but a couple of surprising forks and unmarked streets led me astray. Rather than stressing about how much mileage I tacked on, I simply knew that I was putting a few extra blocks on (or miles as it turned out) but it all counted toward the end goal of 90-minutes.

About that route now. One of the great things I discovered about Providence is that it’s a very runnable city, particularly if you’re training for Boston. You can take in a lot on one long run…but you have to work for it. I trotted out in the center of town and made my way toward the buildings of Brown University poking out above the house-lined streets. Crossing over the river that runs through the city (they light bonfires on it at night during the summer), I noticed that while the buildings got closer, the tips also got higher. So I braced myself for the impending climbs that could be coming…and there were two of them to start. It wasn’t so much my quads that I minded burning, it was the way my heart pounded by the time I got to the top…but get to the top I did where I slowed to catch what remained of my breath. Insert creepy ragged breathing sound effect here.

The route carried me alongside the Brown campus where I could peer into the rare expanse of grassy quad and the few students back early from winter break meandering across it. I came to a T and hung a left to run alongside the Narragansett river and watch the few brave souls shove their boston whalers into the chop and putter out onto the cold river.

From there, I chuffed up another steep hill and took my wrong turn but ended up discovering some of the large mansions that make this town so unique. Homes range from the dilapidated frat house-looking-kind to those that get passed on from family to family. I loved the way that no two houses looked alike, nothing like the cookie-cutter communities that go up a dime a dozen these days. Instead, each house had its own style, from the color, to the size, to the cutouts, to the sparkling chandeliers hanging from the ceilings (I couldn’t help but catch a glimpse in the open windows).

Back on track, I glided down Wickenden street that teemed with people sipping coffee, going in and out of shops that ranged from the Mister Sister Erotic Shop to the nick-knack trinket types of places, hole-in-the-wall restaurants, and everything in between. All good fodder for your head while running.

And lastly, I climbed one last hill through a series of enormous mansions and churches of various denominations. I say lastly, but then I had to circle back around one more time and do the loop over in order to get the minutes (and mileage in). I was happy to have gone slower the first time through to capture the scenery because, since it was a progression run, I was hauling the majority of the second lap with homemade calzones on my mind.

Yesterday, I trotted out on my recovery run, doing pretty much the same loop but incorporating a quick lap around the state capitol whilst getting pelted in the face by sleet.

All-in-all, a grand weekend of running that left me with fresh legs, fresh lungs, and a fresh batch of confidence to continue along this long road to Boston.

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